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Australia-02 - Management of Australian Fisheries

by Jean Brennan last modified Jan 11, 2013 02:44 PM
The World Bank/WBI’s CBNRM Initiative. January 1998. Author: Tony Battaglene.




Management of Australian Fisheries


Identification of the case

The 200 nautical mile Australian Fishing zone (AFZ) was proclaimed in 1979, replacing the 12 mile 'declared fishing zone'. On 1 August 1994 Australia declared a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Although Australia's fishing zone is the third largest in the world, its waters lack nutrient rich currents and consequently have low productivity. There are some 3000 known species of fish and at least an equal number of crustaceans and mollusc species inhabiting Australian waters, but only around 10 percent are commercially fished.

Most major Australian fisheries are 'fully fished'. That is, the target fish stocks within that fishery are being harvested at the maximum sustainable level. Several fisheries have been over-exploited in the past, but recovery programs are in place. Major opportunities for growth are the rapidly developing aquaculture sector, value adding and making better use of by-catch.

Responsibility for the management of fisheries in Australia is shared between the Commonwealth, States and Territories. The Constitution provides that the Commonwealth is responsible for the management of fisheries outside the 3nautical mile territorial sea with States and internal Territories being responsible for fisheries in all other waters adjacent to that State. The political situation of overlapping jurisdictions adds complexity to the management of a common property resource

The author is Director of Commonwealth Fisheries Policy in the Department of Primary Industries and Energy and has responsibility inter alia for domestic fisheries policy, monitoring the performance of fisheries management on behalf of the Minister, negotiation with the States Governments on jurisdictional issues and fisheries adjustment .


The initial situation


Prior to 1991, fisheries management in Australia was run under a command and control situation. The Australian Fisheries Service housed within the Department of Primary Industries and Energy had responsibility for management of Commonwealth fisheries. There was very little communication between stakeholders, either commercial fishing, recreational, environmentalists or the general public on fisheries management matters.

Management was solely on a basis of conservation and input controls were the preferred management option. Biological research had made it obvious that many fish stocks were either fully or over-exploited and unless remedial action was taken there was a strong risk of stock collapse. In addition, there was evidence of excess capacity in fisheries and coupled with poor economic performance.

The change process

The Government became aware that there was an increasing dissatisfaction with the fisheries management process. The legislation was outdated and litigation was commonplace. The genesis for change was the preparation of the 1989 Federal Government policy statement entitled "New Directions for Commonwealth Fisheries Management in the 1990's: AGovernment Policy Statement". This policy document was prepared by the Department of Primary Industry and Energy and embraced by the Government. Following its acceptance a suite of fisheries legislation was introduced in 1991, including the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 which established the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).

Following the establishment of AFMA, there has been a gradual evolution of roles in management. One critical area has been in the establishing of monitoring systems including performance indicators to ensure that AFMA was accountable to all stakeholders.

The outcome

Commonwealth fisheries in Australia are administered by three bodies with separate responsibilities for management, policy and research and development. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is responsible for managing Commonwealth fisheries. The Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries and Energy is responsible for policy making (for example, foreign fishing access rights, taxation rulings on fisheries management and policies on the environment). The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) is responsible for providing research and development funds for Australian fisheries (both State and Commonwealth).

The AFMA's responsibilities for managing Commonwealth fisheries are defined under the Fisheries Administration Act 1991. The objectives of AFMA are:

  • implementing efficient and cost-effective fisheries management on behalf of the Commonwealth;
  • ensuring that exploitation of fisheries resources be conducted in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development;
  • maximising economic efficiency in the exploitation of fisheries management;
  • ensuring accountability of AFMA's management of fisheries resources to the fishing industry and the Australian community; and
  • achieving government targets in relation to the recovery of costs of the Authority.

Its functions defined under this Act are:

  • devising fisheries management regimes, fisheries adjustment and restructuring programs and exploratory and feasibility fishing programs for Commonwealth fisheries;
  • consulting and co-operating with industry and members of the public on AFMA's activities;
  • consulting and negotiating with foreign governments and foreign business interests on foreign fishing vessel access to Australian fisheries and Australian ports;
  • consulting and exchanging information with overseas fisheries agencies;
  • establishing research priorities for fisheries managed by the Authority and arranging for research to be undertaken;
  • undertaking general consultation as specified in the legislation;
  • developing Corporate and Annual Operational Plans and Annual Reports in accordance with the Act; and
  • such other functions as are conferred on the Authority by or under this Act or an associated law.

The Fisheries Management Act 1991 deals with management of fisheries plans, statutory fishing rights, granting of permits and licences, offences for the taking of certain marine species and bans driftnet fishing in the Australian fishing zone. AFMA may determine a management plan for a fishery after it has given public notice of its intention and both invited and considered representations. A plan must set out its objectives and the methods for achieving those goals, and may also include the amount of fish which can be taken, fishing concessions, procedures for selecting persons to whom concessions are to be granted, and the kind and quantity of equipment that may be used. The various levy Acts define the collection of levies from the fishing industry for cost recovery of management charges, charges on access by holders of statutory fishing rights, foreign fishing licence payments.

The functions of the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries and Energy include '... providing advice to, and support for, the Minister on broad industry matters including matters affecting the industry's profitability and market access. They will encompass the impact of government policies (including budgetary policies) on the industry, and will also include environmental considerations which are not specifically related to fisheries management' (Commonwealth of Australia 1989, p 103).

While responsibility for determining management arrangements lies directly with AFMA, the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 allows the establishment of Management Advisory Committees (MACs) to assist AFMA '... in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers in relation to a fishery'. AFMA can delegate functions to the MACs, in which case the MACs can hold the same level of power as AFMA. In these circumstances the MAC must act in accordance with policies determined by AFMA and must comply with directions AFMA gives it. Within the MACs, issues relating to a fishery are discussed, problems identified, possible solutions developed and recommendations made to AFMA. MACs provide a forum for AFMA to consult with industry on its management arrangements, for industry to make its views known to AFMA and for consultation between researchers and industry.

Despite the increased role of industry in management, there is a perception among many operators that AFMA does not consult sufficiently with the MACs, that the MACs are not sufficiently representative and that consultation is often superficial with little real notice being taken of the views of the industry. There has also been some questions regarding the appropriateness of AFMA's objective of maximising economic efficiency in the exploitation of fisheries resources. It has been argued that government management of fisheries should be restricted to ensuring sustainability of the resource through the setting of biologically safe reference points and that industry should be responsible for harvesting the resource as they see fit while adhering to such conservation criteria.


The lessons learned

One of the key outcomes from the change in fisheries management has been the adoption of co-management. The incorporation of industry (initially) and subsequently other stakeholders into the management process has been instrumental in establishing a more effective and cooperative management regime.

This has also led to more accountable management. The separation of day-to-day management from the broader policy body with a strong monitoring role has streamlined the management regime and reduced costs of enforcement as industry has a larger input to decisions.

This model is now being adopted by the State Governments around Australia and has great potential internationally.

A further outcome has been a change in emphasis of management towards maximising economic efficiency (although always with the constraint of sustainability). This has dramatically influenced management strategies, with output controls the preferred option.



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